The first time I was told my son might have a hearing loss he was sitting on my lap having just completed a hearing test given by someone who had never diagnosed a child that was so young. He was just shy of his third birthday at this time. I could see the alarm in the audiologist’s eyes through the thick Plexiglas that separated her from my son and me. My son sat motionless on my lap as he failed to respond to the alarms and high-pitched sirens that went through the booth. The audiologist’s immediate assessment was that his hearing was “abysmal” and that I should have a seat in the waiting room until the ENT was free to see us.
Lots could have been done to avoid the above scenario. In retrospect, I probably should have gone with the more experienced pediatric ENT that didn’t accept our insurance, rather than settle on the “factory ENT” that I ended up going to because they accepted our insurance. I feel that being in the hands of a qualified person is so important at the early stages. Koester and Meadow-Orlans (1990) found that the support parents receive at the time of diagnosis has a significant impact on parent’s acceptance of the diagnosis of hearing loss, and also affects the feelings they might have towards therapy, methods of communication, and other services.
At the time I also had no idea what to ask for when it came to a hearing test, and that the audiologist that tested my son had no idea that there was another test that was more suitable for his age.
None of this would have changed the outcome for my son – he still would not be able to hear, but it would have made it easier on us, the parents, to be in the hands of someone who had worked with late onset hearing loss before – rather than being bumbled through the process the way we were.
All that is changing as there is an easier way to find a certified pediatric audiologist. In 2011 the American Board of Audiology initiated the Pediatric Audiology Specialty Certification. It is a voluntary program that will help increase awareness of the expertise that is needed when diagnosing infants and young children with hearing loss. However, as it is such a new designation there are many well-qualified pediatric audiologists that will not have earned the designation.
So until the designation has gained a couple of more years to allow professionals to catch up, keep the following suggestions in mind when looking for a pediatric audiologist:
- A good first place to start is to ask your child’s pediatrician, as they often able to refer patients to specialists that understand special needs of the pediatric community.
- If you have access to a Children’s Hospital or pediatric clinic in your community that has an audiologist on staff, this makes it more likely that they will provide audiological assessment and treatment to young children.
- If your child has additional developmental concerns let the audiologist know so she can take that into account when assessing your child.
- Make sure that the audiologist is aware of various intervention options and is able to refer you to appropriate service providers, Early Hearing Detection & Intervention programs (EHDI), and support groups and organizations.